Valley Technologies, a possible game changer for Zimbabwe’s telecoms industry

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Spiritage CEO Zachary Wazara

The Spiritage Group CEO, Zachary Wazara

Today, we spent the better part of the morning at the Spiritage network operation center in Harare. We were invited along with a dozen other writers from the various media houses in Zimbabwe to a “pre-launch media briefing” of the business group.

The telecoms side of Spiritage has some of what we’ve written about already here on Techzim. You can read click on the Spiritage tag to read the articles.

There’s a lot more.

First, let me say of all the Zim internet access providers (IAPs) we’ve talked to in recent months, today was the first time we felt we were at a company that’s set to take on the big incumbents head-on and possibly redefine Zimbabwe’s telecoms industry going forward. It’s not that the other 11 licensed IAPs are not doing anything. They are, a lot of great work. Just not at this scale.

To understand more, consider that the company employs inventors. Yes, inventors. The group CEO, Zachary Wazara, revealed that the company actually has a number of inventions in satellite antenna technology, base stations and power generation technologies and is in the process of patenting them. Just thinking about this, you could feel (proudly) that these are not just technologies that will have an enormous impact in Zimbabwe, but that have real potential for application on a global scale to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.

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On the network side of the business, consider that the company has already poured no less than US $25 million into the business and is investing more. Before the network has launched Valley Technologies currently has a core network subscriber capacity of 500,000 and is expanding. Also consider that the cities of Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare and Chitungwiza are all covered and more cities will join as the company prepares to launch.

More, consider that at launch the company will be ready to deliver 3G and 4G connectivity on the network. To sum all this here are the words of the group CEO Zachary Wazara: “There’s no IAP that has a network as extensive as ours. We’ll be so much bigger it will be very difficult for anyone to compete in that area”. And yes, that includes Econet’s Ecoweb, Africom, PowerTel, Aquiva and others.

Through subsidiaries, E-Transact and E-nstant Pay the group also has a mobile banking solution that will be launched soon to compete with other payment and banking solutions already on the market like NetOne’s OneWallet, and Telecel’s Skwama. According to a Spiritage executive in charge of the mobile payments business, the mobile banking system will be bank and mobile network operator neutral. What we saw is the possibility of accessing mobile banking services without being on a specific network or even a bank. A traditional bank guaranteeing the transactions in the background maybe, but not a physical one you interact with to transact.

The CEO also presented on other subsidiaries in the group that will do online stores, deliver media content and sell telecoms accessories.

For those of you interested in the network technologies used on the Valley network, all indications point to TD-SCDMA. We also saw some several references to a Chinese company called Xinwei which we now believe Spiritage is working closely with.  As you may already know, Xinwei Telecom is one of the core developers of China’s home-grown TD-SCDMA 3G standard.

It was all impressive but we were not excited about everything we saw. There are some issues we see as potential deal breakers when the Valley Technologies launches. One clear one is the uncertainty around the issue of interoperatbility of Valley’s voice technologies with the mobile phones that subscribers currently use in Zimbabwe.

Nobody I talked to could say in simple terms if I could use my current GSM mobile phone on the Spiritage network. Investing in a new mobile phone just so one can be on a ‘better’ network is something that most subscribers will put off until a time they are naturally ready to get a new phone. Add to that the issues of number portability (or lack of) in Zimbabwe and you have two factors that can seriously work against the migration of subscribers to the Valley platform.

Zimbabwe is approaching 100% mobile penetration and new customers are mostly those coming from other networks. Migration will not be easy for subscribers unless Valley Technologies’ voice and data tariffs are very very low. As low as the 50%-cheaper rates we saw advertised in the print press some two weeks ago. But it sadly probably won’t be so. The CEO himself confirmed the advertised rates were just a POTRAZ requirement whose cost based determination is not close enough to the state of the network, its size, overall cost and therefore tariffs at launch. In short, the message was: try not to read too much into the advertised tariffs; at launch it might be something totally different. Still a lot cheaper though maybe.

But then again, with the big incumbents (just one actually) doing a great job of frustrating their subscribers, who knows, maybe a lot of subscribers will consider migrating. And if the new technologies are the game changers we think they’ll be, Valley Technologies will raise the bar and force the incumbents to be a bit more responsive to our needs as customers.

Who are the founders and investors in Spiritage? We tried to get the CEO to reveal this information. He definitely is one of the founders but beyond indicating some family trusts and other institutions are the investors he wouldn’t say more.

What do you think? Is Valley Technologies a game changer or the incumbents will still rule.



47 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    The uncertainty of using GSM mobile phones really is a bummer, I am used to my iDevice I can’t imagine changing… at least not at the moment. So when are we expecting service roll-out???

  2. Joe says:

    I don’t know Kabweza, always take official jaunts with a piece of salt. 500,000 subscriber capacity yes … getting the big corporate clients to sign up initially will be a b1tch, and you know how lethargic companies are about changing tech.

    It’s a big sell. As usual, their product won’t possibly be as good as they tout it to be … the question is will it be good enough to entice both the big guns and the small boy like me, who wants something that works, efficiently, no hassle, low cost?

    All power to them, but for me, I shall wait and see.

    1. Anonymous says:

      yeah it’s really wait and see for all of us. being there though i was convinced to some extent they do have an ‘solid’ network. but issues of over-subscription, poor support, poor availability of devices etc… will all determine if the sizable network translates into any real success

  3. Chisinam says:

    wait and see game.

  4. Iwirelesstechnologies says:

    Zack wazara, is this Strive’s homeboi, if yes, they cant do more than Econet!! coz we knw wher the funding is coming from?

    1. Dr. Genius says:

      i m afraid, u hev no idea wer th funding is coming from!

    2. Chikosi says:

      Where is the funding coming from or its just mere speculation in the industry?

  5. David Sairai says:

    i will wait and see

  6. Seedz says:

    Zac Wazara used to run econet nigeria so i think he knows something we dont. But if they can walk the talk i will be the first one to leave econet thats for sure!!!

    1. 0772114704 says:

      not just econet nigeria, its econet international!

  7. Kano says:

    Thats the same what you did with Nhava. They used you (media) to climb the ladder but then the same ladder that took them up is what took them down, you are going to remember the scandal that you were now reporting. Please stop that it is devilish. Technology companies tout a lot and lot of things that they can not deliver. False promises. They are supposed to be just be quite and if they are really delivering customers will still know about because the product is there. Please do not flatter either of

    1. TT says:

      Comparing Nhava with Valley is like comparing my Uncle Banda’s illegal tuckshop in DZ Extension and Wall-Mart or PicknPay… no way Bro!

  8. Beki73 says:

    Are they the ones trenching in Bulawayo?

    1. Fourwallsinaroom says:

      nope thats ewz

      1. Dr. Genius says:

        I m afraid thats not!

    2. Dr. Genius says:

      Every1 is trenching everywhere!

  9. Anonymous says:

    we have read numerous stories of new upstart making lavish launch parties but later sitting on licences doing absolutely nothing with them or offering poor services if they roll out their networks. We remember how Teleacces made all sorts of excuses in rolling out a fixed line network despite a lavish launch party and newspaper parroting and advertising. People should ask themselves why there is a large number of completely new companies being offered licences right now at the same time with traditional old companies. Very soon I am seeing a number of companies running into huge debts and some hawks taking over their businesses

  10. Charles Garananga says:

    its all good lets wait for the launch, the proof of the pudding is in the eating………..and one other thing if l can move over with my BB and they introduce BB services first then surely they have me on their books….

    1. Itai says:

      Sorry, Blackberry devices do not operate on TD-SCDMA..

      1. SONET says:

        Maybe there is hope…………………..

        RIM to Develop TD-SCDMA BlackBerry for China Mobile
        By Sumner Lemon, IDG News Dec 8, 2009 8:20 am http://www.pcworld.com/article/183973/rim_to_develop_tdscdma_blackberry_for_china_mobile.html

  11. Charles Garananga says:

    Just wondering . . .what does iwireless technologies mean by “we know where the funding is coming from?” and, . . .jamesmlambo . . . what do you mean, “lavish launch parties?” I thought this was a media briefing? All I am saying is that we need to learn to make responsible comments that seek to help us have constructive discussion and analysis that is based on ‘some’ awareness.

    1. Iwirelesstechnologies says:

      most likely its another Masiyiwa project!!

      1. Dr. Genius says:

        definitely its not!

  12. Itai says:

    Invention, satellite antenna technology invention???????

    “the company actually has a number of inventions in satellite antenna technology, base stations and………”

    Tesla and Marconi would be very proud of this. Please elaborate!

    Patent them with who? USPTO? LOL

    1. SONET says:

      Maybe they are talking of custom designed antennas.LOL

      Patents???????????? I doubt it also.

      1. Anonymous says:

        why do you doubt the company can register patents?

  13. Built it and then they(customers) come.
    If they are to scale their data pricing to prices below the current playerz in e market. Well i take it there iz going 2 b a surge in people/userz testing their technology.

    Well just my opinion, i have noticed that most internet users have all the dongles (mobile broadband) on the market right now. I personally bought the Econet dongle wen it was still in e black market, then Africom dongle during ICT Africa 2010(browsing was free for more than the promised month), this year i also got the Powertel (not so dissapointing as yet) but m lookng at adding the Telecel dongle-dnt knw eir data will b free 4how long though.

    So “in my opinion”. I conclude that if these guys r going to start with allowing us to buy their devices and test for free or they have lesser charges compared to the skewed current market rates then there is likely going to be a surge in use of their service. Its good to have more playerz in the provision of data services, the clients are the winners, so many options.

    As for voice services…no comment, m satisfied wth wat is there already

  14. Ngonim says:

    heya nhai.this promises to excite us!!

  15. TT says:

    “There’s no IAP that has a network as extensive as ours.” – please Techzim with all due respect to Valley when did they exactly build this network?: As a Telecoms professional I can tell you establishing a core network that surpasses in 2 years what other providers have built over 2 decades is no laughing matter. A few wireless base stations are not really something to blow the trumpet about (but honestly I cant shrug off the feeling these guys are piggybacking on we know whose big network…)

    “the Spiritage network operation center in Harare.”… please try and visit other NOCs then come back to us!!

    1. Anonymous says:

      We did have a tour of the NOC, so yes it is in Harare.

      As for how they built a solid IAP network bigger than any other on the market, they might not necessarily be piggybacking on another company’s network. not trying to defend Valley but there are a number of ways of building capacity after more than a year and a half in operation.

      1. TT says:

        Let me clarify. I dont see Valley as having built an extensive “fiber core network” that surpasses other etablished IAPs in 1 1/2years! Its all marketing hogwash… I assure you.

        An extensive Air Interface RAN (Radio Access Network) I might agree because wireless base stations are faster to deploy and can make efficient use of microwave links as backhaul as opposed to the more preferred but slower fiber bachaul.

        Establishing a fiber core is a project impossible to do secretly only to announce as a surprise to the market.

        As for the 500 000 subscribers I wish them luck as they are still at 350 as we speak. Bon Voyage Valley!

        1. Anonymous says:

          nowhere in the post do we say they have the most extensive fiber. Valley did not say so either.

          IMHO, with all the fibre being laid in Zimbabwe, it wouldn’t be a wise thing to invest in laying your own right now. But yes, Valley’s are also involved in fiber

    2. Dr. Genius says:

      Believe t or not, they dd and are going for mor..

  16. Macd says:

    Thats a poor design, NOC must not be placed in the city centre. In the out yes as they can be room for expansion. Bad start or wording?

    1. Dr. Genius says:

      Saying in Harare doesnt mean its in the City Cntr

  17. Iwirelesstechnologies says:

    true, rollin out a network takes a while before blowing a horn abt it, piggybacking on big networks no doubt, we know who! these companies must attend the ICT meeting being hosted by ZNCC on the 11 of May, so we can hear them out!!

  18. Bethel Goka says:

    There might be hope ZTE ha been said to have built the first TD-SCDMA/GSM dual mode handset and that was about 2 years ago. Perhaps its something that Valley Tech might introduce, in which it will them boil down to their Market Penetration Strategies.

    My 2 cents on the matter.

    1. SONET says:

      TD-SCDMA/GSM handsets are all over China even Nokia manufacture these dual mode phones. The same thing with WCDMA/GSM handsets that are all over Zimbabwe

      The problem is getting handsets that are TD-SCDMA/WCDMA dual mode.

  19. Lets give these guys a fair chance. The trouble with some of these start-ups is that there is no proper research done on the market. The other crucial thing is the positioning. Zim is unique and we cant just bring a product or technology just because its the latest on the market. Its the same thing in SA, they are trying to introduce the LTE broadband technology without due diligence

  20. Yusuf says:

    Am not sure about the financial background but the company has the best technical expertise in telecommunications in Zimbabwe. I have worked with some of them.

  21. Wellafella says:

    when are they going to put up a website if they have one..need to ask wen they will be in binga.taneta nemamwe manetworks anodhura

  22. Wellafella1 says:

    wats their website and wen are they going to connect isu matonga kubinga?

  23. Muchabaiwa says:

    Spiritage CEO was the brains which propelled EWI into success prior to his retirement in 2009.Thus he got game and watch space for action player haters!!!

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